Clipper RTW – Leg 5: Another drift, then a thrashing, Part 2.

The Bismark Sea was pretty magical place, best described as something out of Tintin book. Mystical islands, extinct volcanoes, drifting wreckage to name but a few of the regular sights.

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Mind-blowing sunsets and rises were a daily occurrence, the atmosphere blazing with vivid colour of which photos will never do true justice, and we can but treasure the memories as the only accurate representation of what it was really like.

Spirits were remarkably high considering our slow progress, as other than the heat the conditions were not overly arduous, and our victualers had done a superb job in Brisbane of ensuring we were eating and living well throughout this voyage.

Wildlife was becoming a more commonplace feature, and this little chap spent an evening on deck with us, keeping us entertained for hours.

As we finally progressed to the Western end of the Bismark Sea, the race was called to an end, and we were to make our way to Koto Kinabalu by a combination of engine and sail, in order to replenish fuel supplies, and continue on to Singapore.  Once we had entered the Celebes Sea we were in waters that were often reported as having piracy issues. While this might inspire thoughts of violent attacks on yachts, or the style of hostage taking found recently off the African coastline, piracy in these waters is typically quite different.

It mainly affects the larger shipping, that as well as carrying valuable commercial goods, often have a quantity of cash kept on board. The small amount that is targeted at sailing yachts is reportedly more akin to a street mugging than anything else, and often personal possessions and portable equipment are the target, rather than the boat itself or the hostages, as both these create a new world of complications and risk in order for the pirates to actually make money out of them.

However, we maintained a good awareness of the threat, as none of us wanted to end up in a situation that was avoidable, and we received real-time advice and updates from the relevant agencies involved with those waters. I was woken one afternoon by the skipper saying there were several small boats that had departed from a larger vessel in the distance, and were making there way towards us from each side. While probably totally innocuous, it was also a classic piracy tactic often deployed, with a ‘mothership’ staying a at safe distance, while fast and manoeuvrable boats were sent out to surround the target. So we took it seriously, assembled the crew on deck, and I was left alone down below ready with the sat comms to initiate communications asking for assistance should it be required.

I could hear a lot of activity, then some shouting, then several heavy thuds in quick succession on the deck. Now, I have no idea what sort of noises and activity an attacking pirate might precipitate, but all the noises above weren’t sounding overly positive. However, over a minute passed and no one had actually come below, panicking or otherwise, so I poked my head out on deck to be presented by an excited crew, several large tuna lined up on the port side, and three Philippine fisherman happily gesturing away. Someone could have bothered to tell me we hadn’t in fact been boarded by machete wielding pirates, and we instead having fish for dinner.

An exchange of a Team Garmin T-shirt, a Mars bar, and AU$10 was well received, and Mike Morawa immediately set about preparing the fish for the cooking in his role as master fish monger on board.

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A light fishing skiff, with the larger vessel visible in the distance.

After the briefest of stops in Malaysia to refuel, we continued to motor-sail our way towards the Singapore Straits. The time was put to as much use as possible, with some of the maintenance work being carried out in order to optimise our time ashore.

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Winch transmission and changeover system overhaul.

The sunrises and sunsets continued to provide a wondrous visual backdrop to our endeavours, and other the occasional patch of good breeze and sailing, the engine maintained a high level of noise (and heat) pollution for our audible background.

With a light packing list, and not anticipating several weeks of very little activity, most of us were not prepared for this level of boredom, and lacked physical props to provide the craved distractions. Conversations therefore spiralled into depths hitherto unprecedented, and the finer details of life were analysed, discussed, and re-analysed. The fire hose became a daily source of entertainment, and Kevin the Killer Whale played a prominent deck role, and eventually became my watch’s official motoring day-shape. Probably wouldn’t have passed a yacht master exam, but seemed throughly appropriate at the middle of the tropics.

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Our improvised water-jet propulsion system, still very much in prototype stage.

As the Singapore Straits nearer, the volume of traffic began to increase dramatically. Our entry to the main shipping channels was just before dawn, so initially in low-light, and then in thicker fog until later through the morning. This led to a relatively dramatic, and at times stressful, bit of pilotage, but once the visibility increased it became easier and more relaxed.

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A shot of the chart plotter, the vessels in red indicating ‘dangerous’ targets with a low CPA.
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The nav software showing a similar picture; a very dynamic and fast paced environment.

We did however navigate and transit the approaches without incident, and we happy to make it into a warm and clean Singapore marina.

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Kit and I looking rather officious during our arrival into Singapore.

The only hazard presented in the marina was a combination of Kit walking around, perhaps slightly inebriated, and the occasional roughly finished wooden walkway. This resulted in an extensive surgical session undertaken by Kerry with the use of my Leatherman. Luckily Kit, and his toe, both survived the procedure.

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The route taken shown below. The squiggles displayed after we first turned West show how slow and inefficient progress was at times.

Leg 5 - Brisbane to Singapore

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